The Making of Stephanie Gilmore’s Electric Wave

Photos by Todd Glaser

Despite all this uncertainty and fear and death and aaaaaaaall the fucking rest of it, GREAT WORKS OF ART are being made RIGHT NOW.

If you’re not making it, you’re probably thinking about making it. After all, what else is there to do? And if you’re not making it or thinking about making it, then perhaps get stuck into watching people who are. These days of self-isolation are nothing if not a wonderful opportunity to revisit the great art that has come before, and just recently, in the world of surfing at least, a spectacular and original short film was released featuring our very own Steffy Gizmozza and shot by the brilliant artist/director Dan Askill. It is called Electric Wave and I don’t mind telling you that after nearly 40 years of soaking my eyes and brain tissues in surf movies, this one really does stand out as something special. So, with the World Tour season now cancelled, along with the Olympics and all foreseeable Jimmy Buffett concerts, Steph’s calendar is all but an open book. So we called her up for a long-form chat about great art and surfing and cosmic vibes and what it’s like to be a pelican. It’s a big read, but you may as well give it your time. Nothing else to do.

Let’s talk about Lecky Waves!

What’s that? Oooooh, Electric Wave. Yeah, let’s talk about it.

It’s so good. It’s so, so good.

Did you watch it on your phone?

Oh, no. I watched it on my computer and I had really good headphones for the first time in my whole life.

Oh, nice. I wish I could tell everyone to watch it like that.

It needs to be listened to, as much as it needs to be watched. The experience of the film has got to be done properly.

We were hoping to roll it out in like cinemas but…

But all the cinemas are shut now.

A big screen and good sound and in a completely dark room. I think you can get a good feel for it.

So please explain how this film, Electric Wave, came to life?

I partnered up with Audi a couple of years ago and they were very keen to work on some artistic projects outside of a traditional advertising narrative. Their objective was to support the arts, creatives, and ideas. The initial seedling of this project is the Candide Thovex all-terrain skiing clip. It was a short film shot beautifully, with amazing sound editing and it went crazy. People absolutely loved it. It was a very simple idea that captured the world’s imagination, so we wanted to try and find an idea that would have the same impact but featuring surfing as its centrepiece.

So, we began brainstorming and pretty soon things began to line up with the release of the Audi Electric car, which is a push by the company towards more sustainable ethics. We had an angle to pursue but we needed some vision, so we reached out to artist and director Daniel Askill, who is a master at what he does, and who is probably best known for Sia’s ‘Chandelier’ video. Once we explained the concept, he brought his vision to it and that’s when the wave pool came into being a part of it. A lot of Daniel’s work is choreographed. So we were thinking, all right, how can we sort of involve some choreographing into surfing? Is it even possible? We spoke about this with Daniel, and originally we thought it might be great to have a choreographer on the shoot because the idea was to have three people on one wave completely in sync. We’d decided on including Coco Ho and Leah Dawson, whose style of surfing fits perfectly with my own, and we were curious to see whether our hand movements and our body placement on the wave and our positioning might benefit from that sort of direction and be more in sync with the music.

But in the end, we did it ourselves. We made some basic rules; crouch off the bottom, extend the body through highlines. The goal was to create that perfect synchronicity you see pelicans have when they’re gliding across the surface of the water in perfect V formation. It’s quite mesmeriaing because they’re just floating so naturally. So the wave pool became the only place to do that because shooting something like that out in the ocean would have been an absolute nightmare.

It would be virtually impossible. Even if you had a completely empty perfect point break, you’d feel like bait hanging out there at night with all those lights on.

Totally. Totally.

So, did you have that in your head while you were like? Be the pelican Stephanie! Be the pelican!

No. I was really excited. I knew the success we’d had in the clip from Proximity, the Taylor Steele film that featured Dave Rastovich and myself doing crossovers together in Mexico. We were surfing the same wave but just sharing the moment, but this was taking that to an entirely new level. Crossovers are cool but I’d never seen footage of multiple surfers on a wave doing the same thing. Surfing in synchronicity. It is a new vision. And that’s where Daniel really came in to help us achieve that.

What’s he like to work with? You’ve worked with every filmmaker in surfing, how was it to work with someone from outside that world?

Yeah, Daniel is rad. I mean, he’s a big name in the creative arts and it was really cool to bring his vision, himself and his team into our world too. I remember one moment during the shoot, the cinematographer, Natasha and Daniel, all of the team who were there to make this thing a reality, once they saw our first wave together—where it was basically pitch black and then out of nowhere this wave appears and there are three surfers, riding this wave at night in skin-coloured swimsuits under the full moon—I think for all of them, it was probably quite an emotional experience. They’d never seen anything like it. And in their line of work, surprises like that are rare because everything is planned and scripted and rehearsed and structured from start to finish. Surfing was a completely new thing. For Leah and Coco and me, we were going into it pretty blind. We were like, ‘Oh I guess we’re just going to get a wave, paddle into it in the dark, hopefully, get to our feet and try not to run over each other.’

To make something really stand out as something completely different is such a massive challenge in surfing, but I think this is a great success. You know, like when you watch Jon Frank’s movies, you get the same sense. Like there’s something spiritual going on. The art connects with you emotionally.

Definitely. When we did The Tempest with Monster Children, so many people loved its simplicity. That’s what resonated with them. The little shots where Jon would capture my hand tickling the lip line or those little moments where subtle movement and positioning are given attention. I’m not doing a massive air, I’m not out there charging Jaws, but I am thinking about how can capture the audience with the feel of what we do. Which is why Coco and Leah were perfect to work with. They have the most beautiful aesthetic in their surfing. It’s dreamy. Dan’s vision for the story was to have an endless wave… an infinite ride in an abstract dream state. We shot from 8pm until 5am. I remember around 3am, we were all a bit delirious. I watched the full moon go from one side of the wave pool all the way to the other side and I was still out in the water surfing. The shoot took on that kind of abstract, slightly dreamlike state because we surfed all night. So what you feel when you watch Electric Wave is authentic. The feel of the shoot is in the fabric of the finished product.

Did you have any hand in the editing of the surf footage? You can end up with just about anything if you leave the cut in the hands of people who don’t surf?

That was something that Audi was really conscious of. They wanted to make sure that Dan was able to fulfill everything he wanted to do. But from a surfing perspective, we were all over every shot. There were a few changes. A couple of turns that looked gross. And there was the old frame flip where they make you look goofy and I was like, ‘Oh no, this is not going to work. Surfers will spot the difference and complain.’ So yeah, it was important to make sure we are all over everything but in the end, I don’t think that stuff would have mattered all that much. I think all the footage was so beautiful.

You almost could have gone more abstract with it in some ways, but I guess it’s that perfect balance of being art, but keeping the surf nerds happy, because fuck me surfers can be such haters!

[Laughs] Surfers can be the worst. It’s funny, there was one wave, like just a three-minute clip and it’s shot from start to finish, and it’s actually a drone shot. It stays dark for a long time because it’s shot in such slow motion; there’s a spotlight and it’s a bit smoky and hazy, then I appear on this wave and surf all the way through and get barrelled and kick out at the end. And just that one wave alone, one shot from start to finish, that could have been the clip. We didn’t need to film for eight hours, that would have been the clip to keep the surf crowd more than happy. But once I saw that footage I also knew that the short film was going to be amazing and that everyone would love it. It doesn’t matter who you are, what sort of surfer you are or whether you surf or not. It’s different and it’s special.

It’s just the perfect example of surfing being elevated above sport, elevated into being an art form that many people believe it is.

We are meant to be doing these sorts of projects. It is the spiritual element of surfing that I love the most and to show it in such a cosmic light is important because despite what cynics might have you believe, surfers are cosmic creatures.

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